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MCDONALD'S SWNEWS4U GAME OF THE WEEK (8-Player Football): Belmont 44, Wabeno–Laona 18
State bound Braves rally from 18–10 deficit to wipe out Rebels in the rain
Belmont tackle
Seven Belmont Braves converge on a Wabeno-Laona ball carrier during Friday’s 44–18 WIAA 8-Player state semifinal victory. The Belmont defense pitched a second-half shutout to rally from an early 18–10 deficit. - photo by Tom Gunnell

MCDONALD'S SWNEWS4U.COM CO-GAME OF THE WEEK (Oct. 26–Nov. 2)
PREP CROSS COUNTRY: WIAA Division 3 Albany Sectional

By Tom Gunnell, Republican Journal / Tri-County Press

Belmont rallies from 18–10 deficit to earn a trip to WIAA 8-Player State title game

LOMIRA — A little bit — OK, maybe a lot — of rain on Friday night couldn’t slow down the Belmont Braves on the way to their state.

Seniors Noah Fritz and Kolby Lancaster combined to rush for 366 yards and six touchdowns to lead the Braves to a come-from-behind 44–18 victory over the Wabeno–Laona Rebels in an WIAA 8-Player state semifinal playoff game held on a rainy night at Lomira High School on Friday.

“It’s truly special in so many ways,” said Belmont head coach Brandon Wiese. “Our players have worked really hard throughout the season and the off-season to put themselves in this opportunity. We are excited to represent Belmont and to get a chance to bring home a gold ball.”

The Braves (10–1 overall), who won an “unofficial” state title during the COVID season in 2020, advance to the 2022 WIAA 8-Player State Championship game against defending champion Wausau Newman Catholic (11–0). The top-ranked Cardinals blanked Siren, 35–0, Friday night to earn their third straight state finals appearance.

Since 2019, Belmont has faced Newman Catholic three times, including twice in the playoffs, with the Cardinals winning all three meetings by 32 or more points in each game. The Cards won last year’s state semifinal matchup with the Braves, 35–0, en route to the title.

“Newman is a familiar opponent for us in the postseason, so our players are looking forward to getting a chance to redeem last year’s loss to them,” said Wiese.

To get their rematch with the Cardinals, the Braves first had to dispatch the Rebels (8–3), and they did so by scoring 34 unanswered points to rally from an 18–10 second-quarter deficit.

Belmont scored first on a 5-yard scoring jaunt by Lancaster at the four-minute mark of the first quarter. The Braves’ quarterback added the conversion run for an 8–0 lead.

The Rebels struck back just 11 seconds later with QB Carter Janesch connecting on a 57-yard bomb to Adam Seeber to cut the gap to 8–6.

The Braves’ lead went to 10–6 when a mishandled snap on a punt from the Rebels’ end zone led to a safety. However, on the ensuing kickoff, the Belmont returner fumbled at midfield and the ball bounced right into the hands of Ryan Roy, who raced in for a 50-yard score to put the Rebels ahead 12–10.

Another Janesch-to-Seeber scoring strike, this time from 43 yards out, extended the Rebels’ lead to 18–10 with 4:25 to play in the half.

That left plenty of time for the Braves to score not only once but twice to regain the lead for good. A 29-yard TD run by Fritz with 3:09 brought Belmont back within two at 18–16.

Then, following an interception by Gavin Opitz at the Rebels’ 31-yard line, Lancaster capped a nine-play scoring trek with a 4-yard TD blast to put the Braves back in front for good at 22–18 with 12 seconds remaining in the half.

“We knew that the weather would bring some surprises and they seemed to come in the first half for us,” said Wiese. “Our players did a nice job of stepping up and not letting a few mistakes take over the game.” 

The Braves owned the second half on both sides of the ball, scoring on three of their six possessions on offense while forcing five turnovers — three fumble, an interception and a turnover of downs — and pitching a shutout on defense over the final 24 minutes of play.

Lancaster cashed in Maverick Voigts’ interception in Rebels’ territory with a 6-yard TD run to extend Belmont’s lead to 30–18 with 4:56 to play in the third quarter.

Fritz followed with a 14-yard TD run with just over two minutes remaining in the third, and then tacked on an 18-yard score following senior Casin Carey’s second fumble recovery of the half to put the Braves up 44–18 with 6:04 to play.

When it was all over, the Braves had run the ball 70 times for 414 yards with Fritz rolling up 197 yards on 30 carries with three scores and Lancaster adding 169 yards on 32 totes with three TDs of his own.

Fritz also hauled in two passes from Lancaster for five yards and completed a pass to his teammate for a 22-yard gain. Lancaster finished 3-for-6 passing for 10 yards.

“To be able to put up those numbers in those types of conditions speaks volume to our guys up front and the backs carrying the ball. We told our players that the game would be won in the trenches and by taking care of the ball, both of which we were able to do fairly well,” Wiese said.

The Rebels gained 179 of their 233 yards through the air with Janesch completing eight of his 28 passes with two TDs and two picks. He also led his team with 42 rushing yards on 16 carries, but fumbled the ball away three times. Seeber was his main target hauling in two catches for 100 yards and two scores. 

Defensively, Carey led the Braves’ charge with six total tackles, including five solo stops and three tackles for loss, to go along with his two fumble recoveries. Fritz added five tackles, while sophomore Mason Oellerich had four tackles and senior Konner Lancaster had two solo tackles with one TFL and a fumble recovery. 

“The best part about coaching is seeing growth from the players,” said Wiese. “Our defense has continued to get better and better each week. Friday night was no different, they stepped up big time.”

Top-ranked Newman Catholic has won 28 games in a row since falling to Luck in the 2019 state championship game. The Cardinals are scoring nearly 47 points per game this season while rushing for 224 yards and passing for 143 yards per game. On defense, they are allowing less than six points per game with four shutouts. No opponent has scored more than 14 points in a game this year.

Senior QB Carter Krach is a dual-threat with his arm and legs, completing 81-of-127 passes (64 percent) for 1,534 yards with 21 TDs and only one interception and rushing 71 times for 813 yards and 17 TDs. Senior Thomas Bates leads the Cards as a runner and a receiver, rushing 91 times for 1,015 yards and 17 TDs and catching 27 passes for 506 yards and 10 TDs.

The WIAA 8-Player State Championship Game will be played at South Wood County Stadium in Wisconsin Rapids on Saturday, Oct. 12. Kickoff is slated for 1 p.m. 

The State 8-Player Football championship game will be streamed live on the WIAA.TV portal of the NFHS Network via a subscription at https://www.nfhsnetwork.com/subscribe/retail. 

WIAA 8-Player Level 3 Semifinal Playoff
No. 1 Belmont 44, No. 3 Wabeno/Laona 18
(from Friday, Nov. 4 @ Lomira)
Wabeno/Laona.....6 12  0  0 — 18
Belmont.................8 14 16 6 ­— 44 
First quarter
B: Kolby Lancaster 5 run (Kol. Lancaster run), 4:00
W/L: Adam Seeber 57 yard pass from Carter Janesch (run failed), 3:39
Second quarter
B: Safety, ball fumbled out of the end zone on punt, 7:02
W/L: Ryan Roy 50 fumble return (pass failed), 6:47
W/L: Seeber 43 pass from Janesch (pass failed), 4:25
B: Noah Fritz 29 run (run failed), 3:09
B: Kol. Lancaster 4 run (pass failed), 0:12
Third quarter
B: Kol. Lancaster 6 run (Kol. Lancaster run), 4:56
B: Fritz 14 run (Caden Lindholm run), 2:04
Fourth quarter
B: Fritz 18 run (pass failed), 6:04
Team Statistics
First downs — W/L 11, B 25. Rushing — W/L 24-54, B 70-414. Passing (comp-att-int, yds) — W/L 8-26-2, 179; B 4-7-0, 32. Fumbles–lost W/L 3-3, B 2-1. Penalties-yards — W/L 3-20, B 6-34. 
Individual Leaders
Rushing — W/L: Carter Janesch 16-42; B: Noah Fritz 30-197, Kolby Lancaster 32-169. Passing (comp-att-int, yards) — W/L: Carter Janesch 8-26-2, 179; B: Noah Fritz 1-1-0, 22; Kolby Lancaster 3-6-0, 10. Receiving — W/L: Adam Seeber 2-100; B: Kolby Lancaster 1-22. Tackles — B: Casin Carey 6, Noah Fritz 5, Mason Oellerich 4.